China Gorman, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

China Gorman, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Please welcome China Gorman to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. China has held strategic leadership roles
in the human capital management sector over the last 25 years and currently heads up CMG Group. China was the Chief Operating Officer of SHRM and sits on the Advisory Board at RiseSmart. China is a sought-after speaker and thought leader in the human resources marketplace. Full Bio »

Apps Don’t Create Community

by China Gorman

“Community” is a word thrown around a lot in the HR space.

We hear about talent communities, employee communities, learning communities, and professional communities.  And they’re all powered by apps. Or at least that’s what we’re led to believe

The leading super consumer apps – FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn – have created the illusion that relationships created online are real relationships. They want you to believe you can create meaningful friendships, depend on them and, best of all, monetize them.

I think it’s horse pucky. The super apps are brilliant. No question. And they keep people connected. But they don’t create relationships.

I don’t believe real relationships are created online. I have thousands of Twitter followers. I have relationships with about 150 of them. True, I “met” some of these folks on Twitter. But until I met them face-to-face, or had a telephone conversation with them, I didn’t have a relationship with them. And after I met some face to face or had telephone conversations with them, I chose not to invest in a relationship. We’re connected. That’s all.

Same thing with FaceBook.  I’m connected to all manner of people – most of them I don’t know. Lots of them I used to know – from high school, college, former work places – but I don’t know them now and certainly haven’t invested in any type of a relationship. I also have lots of “friends” on FaceBook that I’ve never met and have no interest in meeting. We have “friends” in common and that’s it.

LinkedIn has a more defined purpose. Professional networking on LinkedIn has value to me in a way that being friends on FaceBook doesn’t – except with people who really are my friends. Networking and being willing to share professional information with people I don’t know is something I’ve done throughout my career. I’ve helped lots of strangers and lots of strangers have helped me over the last 30 years – with and without LinkedIn. Except that once we help each other we aren’t strangers any more. We have a real relationship. But that’s still not a majority of my connections on LinkedIn.

This is all to say that entities (individual or collective) that want to create community need to focus on creating relationships rather than generating mountains of connections via social technology apps. Thousands of followers, “friends,” and connections might make you feel like you’re part of something big and special, but they aren’t relationships. And I’d be hard pressed to call them a community.

So would John Sumser at HRxAnalysts. He just published The 2012 Index of Social Technology in HR and Recruiting.  It’s fascinating. His observations are spot on and his list of organizations providing social technology to HR, while not exhaustive – where is Achievers? – is certainly robust.

The big takeaway? Today, social technology and HR are about data. Pure and simple.

Social technology and HR aren’t yet about community building – although everyone thinks they are. In fact, Sumser characterizes social media technology for HR as “anti-social.”

“Much of what is called social media or social technology is really an emerging approach to being able to collect and use new forms of data.  …While the results are somewhat anti-social, organizations are developing an appetite for the information in social media sites.  That data helps clarify the characteristics of the human capital that an organization deploys.”


“While the promise of social technology is increased levels of intimacy between individuals and their world, the current reality has more to do with surveillance.”

Wow.  “(T)he results are somewhat anti-social….” “(T)he current reality has more to do with surveillance.”  Could we find two words more at odds with building community than anti-social and surveillance?

The thing is, I think he’s right.  HR sees the “promise” of social technology, but hasn’t yet figured out how to use it for much more than data collection. The “promise” of the power of communities is there. We can all see it. We can smell it. We can feel it. We want it so badly we can taste it.

And we’re looking to technology providers to help us get there.  As the HRxAnalyst report shows, there are a great many providers working on social technology applications for HR – many established firms and many more startups. But it would appear that within this sector, the applications are about data collection and analysis, not community creation and growth. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of data – especially as it relates to acquiring and managing people.  In fact, HR needs to get much more comfortable and facile with data.

But let’s all be real about this.  HR isn’t really creating communities through social technology apps.  HR is gathering a lot of data that it can’t yet put to work to engage its workforce and plan for the future.

The promise of social technology gets us all excited about the power of communities.  I wonder when that promise will be a reality.



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